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3 Key Strategies for Supporting Patient Self-Management

Healthcare providers can utilize health technology and care programs to help motivate patient self-management.

By Sara Heath

Patient engagement strategies are necessary for an in-depth and productive care encounter, and they are also important for inspiring lasting patient self-management habits. When patients are fully engaged in their healthcare, they are more likely to take the steps necessary for self-care and health maintenance.

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But motivating  patients is sometimes easier said than done. After all, only the patient can decide how she will take care of herself outside the doctor’s office.

Providers may be able to change that by extending patient care efforts outside of the office through care programs and health technology, and driving patient self-management with effective engagement techniques.

Advocating for wellness programs

According to HealthCare.gov, wellness programs are plans to care for everyday patient health. These can include weight loss plans, smoking cessation plans, and other general wellness initiatives.

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Although these programs are typically workplace- or insurance-sponsored, physicians can use appointment time to encourage their patients to participate in a wellness program.

However, it is not enough for patients to simply enroll in any wellness program. The program must be a good fit and work well for them. One study conducted by Welltok and the National Business Group on Health found that wellness programs aren’t always effective if they are not specific enough to the patient.

The study, which surveyed 1,000 full-time employees with workplace wellness programs available to them, found that lack of personalization was the primary reason for program non-participation.

Thirty-seven percent of non-participants reported such because the program was not relevant to their health needs, and another 20 percent reported that they did not know about the program. Through better personalization, employees may be more motivated and more likely to learn of a relevant program.

Pushing patient portal registration

READ MORE: Overcoming Patient Barriers to Chronic Disease Management

Patients can also utilize health information technology to manage their care between doctor’s visits. When patients access their patient portal, they can review their health data and remind themselves of doctor’s notes for health improvement.

Patient portals also help facilitate communication between patients and providers between office visits. Research shows that communication via secure direct message has a positive effect on overall patient health.

When patients regularly use secure direct messaging, their doctors may be more able to adjust their medications, remind them of treatment plans, answer questions, and coordinate care between other providers.

While patient portals require some action on the part of the provider, the sole responsibility for communication lies with the patient. Patients need to take the action of enrolling for the portal, as well as determining when their illness requires more provider attention. By practicing self-management, patients can use this tool to consult with their providers about the best course of action.

In many cases, the portal helps patients become more knowledgeable about their health, which is key for self-management. According to Susan Wolver, MD, internist at VCU Health, patients who use the patient portal often help bring healthcare issues to their doctors, showing a high level of activation.

READ MORE: How Can Wellness Programs Improve to Boost Patient Motivation?

“[The patients] feel that they are more participant in their care,” Wolver says. “They bring things to their providers that they may not have understood or known about before. I know all kinds of care that has been transformed because of the portal.”

Getting patients to sign on for the portal might take a little provider encouragement, however. Experts say the best course of action is to highlight the benefits of the portal and to provide their own testimonies.

Utilizing mHealth apps

Using mHealth apps is a critical component of self-management because it brings healthcare into patient hands. When patients keep track of their health on their smartphone – whether that be through a fitness tracker or a medication adherence app – self-management becomes easier and more effective.

While wearable devices like fitness or diet trackers are helpful for patients looking to maintain their overall health, the true benefit of mHealth lies in follow-up care management.

At Sharp Rees Stealy Medical Group, providers are supplying patients with mHealth apps focused on coaching them in the post-discharge process. Sharp Rees Stealy targeted messages at different frequencies for different patient populations depending upon their needs and preferences. This has helped boost patient self-management in follow-up care.

Other apps have proven to help improve medication non-adherence by reminding patients to take their medications or keeping them on track with other treatment protocol. These tools help patients build good medication habits and help them manage their health as they continue on the road to their recovery or continue to manage a chronic illness.

Going forward, providers must emphasize the importance of self-management. As the industry continues its shift toward value-based reimbursement models, providers will need to help patients take care of themselves between regular visits. Supporting patient self-management will help patients stay healthier in the long-term, reducing their likelihood of needing costly healthcare.

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